Black civil servants threaten to pull out of mental health plan amid ongoing racism

Click to play video: 'Black civil servants facing ‘trauma’ amid class action, says organizer'
Black civil servants facing ‘trauma’ amid class action, says organizer
WATCH: Black civil servants facing ‘trauma’ amid class action, says organizer – Sep 25, 2022

A group of Black federal public servants is accusing the government of racism and is threatening to pull out of the development of a mental health action plan meant for Black workers.

The Federal Black Employee Caucus sent a letter to the Treasury Board’s chief human resources officer this month saying the workers supported efforts to address racism within the public service, only to be “continuously faced with the crushing weight of it.”

In a December 2021 mandate letter, the prime minister tasked Treasury Board President Mona Fortier with establishing a mental health fund for Black public servants. The government has budgeted $3.7 million over four years for the program.

That came about as a result of a proposed class-action lawsuit that was filed against the federal government in 2020.

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Led by Nicholas Marcus Thompson, the $2.5-billion claim alleges that since the 1970s, some 30,000 Black civil servants lost out on opportunities and benefits because of their race.

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The claim also includes another 15,000 people who allege they were never hired into the federal public service because of their race.

The class action has not been certified and in October, the federal government asked a Federal Court judge to dismiss the proposed lawsuit, arguing it should instead be pursued in another jurisdiction as a labour grievance.

Click to play video: 'The efforts to bolster Black representation in Canadian politics'
The efforts to bolster Black representation in Canadian politics

Thompson filed a motion as part of the lawsuit to have the government establish a $100-million mental health fund for current and former Black employees.

In their letter to the Treasury Board, the Black employees caucus said it took months to set up a working group, and they accused government representatives of “blatant anti-Black hate” in their language and of negotiating in bad faith. The group also accuses the employer of sending out incorrect, out-of-date information.

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“It was clear very early on, that there were unwilling actors representing the Crown at the table,” the letter said.

The letter says the group will be meeting to decide whether it should walk away from the process, just six months after joining.

“The public service is playing games with the lives of Black Canadians, and their mental health in particular,” Thompson said.

“The government acted in bad faith with us when it said it wanted to work to create the mental health program.”

In a written statement, the Treasury Board said it remains committed to establishing the program, and that Fortier has “met with the Black employee networks to discuss and advance these files.”

Thompson said Black employees working on the file are disappointed and feeling attacked, threatened, stressed and undervalued.

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